Mary Shelley and By: Matt Cimenski
Mary Shelley Mary Shelley was born in London. Her mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, died of puerperal fever 10 days after giving birth to her. In her childhood Mary Shelley was left to educate herself. While she was young, she would read in her father’s library and engage in stimulating conversations with artists and intellectuals who were her father’s students. At fifteen, Mary met the poet Percy Shelley, who was married at the time. Two years later, she ran off with him to France. They were married in December 1816, two weeks after Percy Shelley's first wife drowned. By then Mary had already given birth to two children.
Percy Shelley Percy Bysshe Shelley was the heir of a rich estate acquired by his grandfather. He was born at Field Place, near Horsham in Sussex, into an aristocratic family. His father, Timothy Shelley, was a Sussex squire and a member of Parliament. Shelley attended Syon House Academy and Eton and in 1810 he entered the Oxford University College. Percy was an English Romantic poet who rebelled against English politics and conservative values.
Mary's Parents Mary Wollstonecraft William Godwin Mary Shelley came from a rich literary heritage. She was the daughter of William Godwin, a political theorist, novelist, and publisher who introduced her to well known intellectuals and encouraged her efforts as a writer. Her mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, was a writer and early feminist thinker who died shortly after her daughter's birth. Her mother was the author of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. Her father became famous with his work: An Enquiry Concerning Political Justice (1793). Godwin had revolutionary attitudes to most social institutions, including marriage. Another book he is known for is Things as They Are, or The Adventures of Caleb Williams (1794).
In the summer of 1816, nineteen-year-old Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin and Percy Shelley (whom she married later that year), visited the poet Lord Byron at his villa beside Lake Geneva in Switzerland. Stormy weather frequently forced them indoors, where they and Byron's other guests sometimes read from a bunch of ghost stories. One evening, Byron challenged his guests to each write one themselves. Mary's story, inspired by a dream, became “Frankenstein.”
The reshaping of Mary Shelley's story began almost from the moment it first appeared. The 1931 Universal Studios production of “Frankenstein,” starring Boris Karloff as the monster, started more than a century of variances of the original story. Compared to Shelley's sensitive, careful creature, Universal's was crude and unformed. But the power of Hollywood image-making gave him an impact as great or greater than Shelley's, and made him into an icon of popular culture. Just as Shelley's story was shaped by the science of the day, so was Hollywood's influenced by some of the scientific and pseudo-scientific preoccupations of its day, including eugenics, robots, and surgical transplants.
In 1823 Mary Shelley's father told her of an English Opera House production of a play entitled “Presumption” or, “The Fate of Frankenstein.” Though inspired by her novel, the play was done completely different from her story; just as playwrights, filmmakers, and political cartoonists have done ever since. Shelley's original novel, memorable for its story and the large questions it poses, has been simplified and distorted, sometimes almost beyond recognition.
When nineteenth-century English editorial cartoonists wished to depict some group as brutish, primitive, or inclined to run amok, they routinely invoked the image of the Frankenstein monster. Here, their target was the Irish.
The first cinematic version of “Frankenstein” was a silent film produced by Edison Films. This film came two decades before the famous 1931 Universal Studios picture.
The success of a stage version of Dracula, the story of a vampire, helped convince producers at Hollywood's Universal Studios that Americans would attend horror movies. In 1930, Universal bought film rights to Peggy Webling's Frankenstein: An Adventure in the Macabre, which had premiered in London three years earlier. An obscure English actor, William Henry Pratt, who went by the stage name of Boris Karloff, played the monster in Universal's adaptation of the Webling play. Karloff's success in Frankenstein made him a star. The film itself became an almost instant classic of a new genre: the horror movie.
In posed studio portraits, Boris Karloff looks like any another handsome movie actor. Make-up artist Jack Pierce made him into the monster. Pierce's three months of research into anatomy and surgery convinced him that a surgeon determined to transplant a brain would cut the top of the skull straight across, hinge it, pop in the new brain, then clamp it shut. Hence, the monster's flat, squared-off head. Frankenstein earned rave reviews, was named to top-ten lists, and made lots of money. The production cost $290,000 in Depression-era dollars, and earned more than $12 million.
During the 1940s and 1950s, Classics Illustrated was considered the thinking child's comic. Some parents who wouldn't let their children read comics would still let them read these. Note here the arctic scene, which appeared in Mary Shelley's original story but rarely in the work of her successors.
There are thousands of toys that have been produced that are based on the original Frankenstein created by Mary Shelley. It’s kind of scary, but in a way, Frankenstein toys, masks, comics, and other objects all pay tribute to a cold-blooded killer. Because of all the movies, plays, and toys made, Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” will live on forever.